SAN FRANCISCO – The wave of storms battering California are far from over, and it’s too early to calculate the cost of damage to homes and businesses overwhelmed by floodwaters.
But the final tally will be in the billions of dollars, says Trevor Burgess, CEO of Neptune Flood, among the nation’s largest private flood insurance companies. Only 2% of homeowners in California have flood insurance, he said, adding that standard homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage.
A recent climate assessment by the U.S. Global Change Research Program found that “atmospheric rivers” such as those sweeping across California will become more common and more severe as global temperatures increase.
“Unfortunately, these sorts of flooding events are the new normal and can no longer be considered a 1-in-100-year sort of event,” Burgess said.
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►Dozens of major roads around the state remain closed because of flooding and slide concerns, the state Department of Transportation says. Caltrans districts across the state are “strongly advising the public to avoid traveling if you can.”
►At least 18 people have died in the unrelenting wave of storms that have rolled across the state since late December, state officials say. Most of the deaths have been caused by falling trees and cars swept away on flooded roads.
►The 12.37 inches of rain San Francisco received from Dec. 26 through Monday represent more than half its typical yearly total and the city’s third-highest amount ever over 15 days, meteorologist Jan Null said.
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Hopes were fading Thursday for rescuing Kyle Doan – a 5-year-old boy who slipped from his mother’s grasp Monday amid floodwaters that have ravaged parts of California – as more storms were on the way.
More than 100 volunteers, first responders and National Guard members searched San Marcos Creek near the central coast town of Paso Robles, where his mother Lindsy’s SUV drifted off the road and into the surging waters.
Lindsy Doan abandoned the car, hugging a tree and taking hold of her son’s hand. She said Kyle’s last words were reassuring: “Mom, it’s OK. Just be calm.”
Her grip on him was tenuous, and the current swept him away, she said.
“Yesterday I got to the point where I think I ran out of tears,” Doan told The Associated Press. “I mean, I’ve tried to do a Google search: How long can a child not eat? How long can they be in wet clothes? We’re worried because I don’t know if they’re going to be able to find him.”
A large cyclone well out in the Pacific Ocean will direct the latest in a series of atmospheric rivers up the West Coast during the next couple of days, forecasters say. The heaviest precipitation will stretch from northern California along the coastal Pacific Northwest through early Saturday. Northwestern California is most likely to receive “excessive” rainfall, the National Weather Service says.
That weather system should begin breaking down Friday night – allowing the next Pacific cyclone to direct another surge of atmospheric river toward California by Saturday morning.
A line of severe thunderstorms that rolled through the Sacramento area early Tuesday triggered a tornado near the town of Milton, the National Weather Service confirmed. The twister, with winds of 90 mph, tore a path of mangled and uprooted trees almost a half-mile long and 50 yards wide about 30 miles east of Stockton, the weather service said in a statement.
A few miles from Milton, near the town of Oakdale, the storm drove winds strong enough to lift a barn and toss it over a five-foot fence, the weather service said. Rather than a tornado, the culprit was straight-line winds of about 75 mph, the statement said.
The six atmospheric rivers that have soaked California in recent weeks, along with the three or four more to come, will ease concerns about a drought that has entered a fourth year. But the parade of storms won’t by itself end the state’s extended stretch of below-average rainfall.
For one, California’s water reservoirs reached extremely low levels during the drought and are only now starting to recover. The biggest such cistern, Lake Shasta, was at 55% of its historical average on Christmas before rising to 70% by Tuesday, still considerably below its typical level for the date.
In addition, an impressive first part of the rainy season hardly guarantees continued precipitation. State residents got such a reminder last year when major October and December storms appeared to signal the drought was over, only for California to experience the driest January-to-March stretch in recorded history.
When the Sierra snowpack – which serves as a natural water storage until the spring melt-off – was measured at its traditional peak in early April, it registered only 38% of the historic average.
“We are not out of the drought yet,” said Laura Feinstein, who leads work on climate resilience and environment at SPUR, a public policy nonprofit.
Contributing: The Associated Press